A fierce storm struck both the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov on November 11, 2007. According to news reports, as many as 10 ships either sank or ran aground, one of them an oil tanker. The Russian tanker Volganeft-139 was anchored to the sea floor in the Kerch Strait linking the Black and Azov Seas when 108-kilometer- (67-mile-) per-hour winds tore the ship apart. As of November 12, up to 2,000 metric tons of fuel oil had leaked from the ship.
On November 11, 2007, the day the storm struck, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of the region. Thick clouds obscure the view of much of the land area, including Ukraine, Belarus, western Russia, and Georgia. Clouds also obscure the Sea of Azov, although skies over the Black Sea are somewhat clearer. Over the Sea of Azov and immediately to the north, the clouds form a vague swirling pattern, suggestive of a low-pressure cyclonic system.
As reported by the BBC, all 13 sailors on the Volganeft-139 were rescued, part of a total of 35 sailors rescued from the region. Some 20 crewmembers of other ships remained missing, however, and three bodies had been recovered as of November 12. Two other ships in the region were carrying potentially hazardous loads, including several tons of sulfur. According to the Associated Press, the sulfur cargo emptied into the area, but an official with southern Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry branch stated that sulfur was not dangerous to the local habitat.
By November 13, an oil slick coated local beaches, and dead and dying seabirds littered the beaches, according to Reuters. The Russian Prime Minister had flown to the Black Sea coast to oversee cleanup efforts. Despite the hazards this spill posed to local wildlife, it was dwarfed by the oil spill from the Prestige tanker off the coast of Spain in 2002. That oil spill released over 60,000 tons of oil. The quantity of oil released, however, is not the only factor in determining the severity of an oil spill; proximity to a coastline is also important, and the November 11, 2007, accident occurred close to land.
NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of the MODIS Rapid Response team.